Monday, August 1, 2011

Movie Monday: The House on Skull Mountain

Every room is a living tomb in The House on Skull Mountain!

The House on Skull Mountain was one of those movies I remember seeing at the video store I worked at, probably a thousand times as I put boxes back in the horror section. In the days before DVDs, lots of obscure movies got put onto VHS, and The House on Skull Mountain, without any stars to show off on the box, always looked like one those.

I had forgotten all about it until I saw it surface on Netflix WI, so I thought why not give it a spin?

The movie opens promisingly, with this evocative, slightly old-school matte painting of the house in question. Remember: location, location, location!
After some shots of voodoo drums, we find an old woman on her death bed inside the house on...well, you know. The woman hands four letters to a priest, then pulls out a box filled with voodoo dolls. She dies, and we go to the opening credits:
Unfortunately, after this, there's scarcely little horror content to follow---sure, this movie's about voodoo and all that scary-type stuff, but visually it looks like a TV movie. Maybe part of the reason for that is this:
Yep, that's Lionel Jefferson himself, Mike Evans, playing one of the people who receives a letter from old lady Pauline Christophe. Evans plays Phillippe, one of her great-grandchildren, summoned to skull mountain along with another great-grandchild, a cousin, and a doctor, played by another TV stalwart, Victor French.

Another relative, an older woman, boards a plane to come to Skull Mountain. This is the one scene where the relative cheapness of the production pays off: she sees a weird hooded figure sitting a few rows up, and is terrified when it turns around and stares at her:

Now, don't get me wrong: this scene is not all that scary, and anyone who watches this film just for this scene will come away very disappointed. But the complete lack of atmosphere helps give this moment a feeling of weirdness that you hope for in a horror movie. Unfortunately, its still pretty tame, and over way too fast.

The first night, the great-granddaughter, named Lorena, prepares to go to sleep, and director Ron Honthaner drops in a little bit of visual trickery just to help set the mood:
...again, nothing to write home about, but it is a little something. Sadly, the movie put in between these moments is just talk, talk, talk, and more talk. French's character keeps being asked how he's related to the Christophe family when he's white.

French, playing generally against type as a doctor, does reasonably well in the role, but he's not quite the leading man/action hero this movie requires:
One of the Christophe family is practicing voodoo, and uses it to try and control the others. French's Dr. Cunningham steps in, and there's a battle with machetes that looks like it was shot on standing TV sets (I'm pretty sure I've seen a number of bad guys end up on the business end of a Vulcan Nerve Pinch in front of that wall).

There's some spells, some snakes, some undead; typical voodoo stuff--all of it perfectly fine, but its all presented so boringly that it was really hard for me to stay interested. This is one of those instances where the poster promises a lot more than the movie can deliver.

Director Honthaner never directed another film, I guess Return to the House on Skull Mountain never made it past the idea stage...

1 comment:

Caffeinated Joe said...

I think I caught this once on TCM or something, their late-Friday slot. Wasn't very memorable.

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